It finally happened. After weeks, or months, or even years of writing and rewriting your novel, it’s finally finished. The Great American Novel. You’ve sent it to your family, you’ve sent it to your friends, you’ve even sent it to your high school English teacher. And now you’re ready to take that final, terrifying step—the end of one journey, the start of a new one. You’re ready to send it to a publisher. After spending so long rereading the same sentences over and over again, it’s tempting just to throw it in the mail and cross your fingers. But before you stick your manuscript in an envelope and lick the stamp, you still have one more step to do. It’s one of the most important steps in the process, and yet time and again writers pass over it. Put down your novel, tuck it away, take a breath, and then reread it. That’s it. It’s the easiest way to take care of those common and easily remedied mistakes that might be lingering in between your pages, yet so many writers wince at the thought.
Why? Well, there’s the simple answer: most writers think they can get away with it. Trust me, publishers can tell when someone hasn’t read through their manuscript. The tip-off is usually a glaring mistake or typo in the first sentence or two. Granted, manuscripts are never going to be without a single spelling or grammatical error, but that’s why you’re sending your novel to an editor, right? But after all the blood, sweat, and tears you put into your novel, you want it to go out to the professional world on its best foot.
My most important tip for writers would be this: once you’ve completed your novel, take a step back. Give yourself some space from your work, so you can go back and read through it with fresh eyes. For some authors, they only need a couple weeks. Others might need a month or two. Whatever you need to get the right amount of breathing space, give yourself that time. Don’t skimp on this step. Writers tend to get eyesore from their work, especially after editing it for long periods of time, and it’s tempting to shrug the weight off your shoulders and put it on a publisher. But your writing deserves to be treated with respect, so give it a real start. Take a break, regroup your thoughts, and then read through it not as a writer, but as a reader. Front page to back. You may be surprised by the difference fresh eyes make on an old manuscript.
The real trick here is patience. And maybe on that second-read through of your novel, you’ll find a minefield of spelling errors. Maybe you’ll find that dashing love interest hidden in the first few chapters who went missing midway through the book simply because you forgot he existed. Maybe you’ll find that your novel is polished and perfect, just as you left it. Whatever the case, you’ll have one thing you didn’t have before: distance from your writing. This is vital to moving into the editing process.
Have you heard the term “kill your babies”? It’s a morbid, gruesome term, but if you’ve ever had someone tell you that the best sentence you’ve ever put to paper just doesn’t have a place in your novel, you’ll know just how apt it is. As writers, we tend to get caught up in the art of the craft. We slave away on every character, every plot twist, every sentence and word until it’s perfect. These are our “babies”—that chipped teacup that keeps resurfacing because it’s a powerful symbol of damaged innocence. Never mind that it’s incredibly unlikely that a chipped teacup would show up in the middle of an underground boxing ring, but dammit, we want it there., only to be surprised when the editors tell us to cut it.
More often than not, it’s these very “babies” that we hold so dear that keep our writing from blossoming to its full potential. Because under the haze of carefully articulated details is the beating heart of the story. Cracking ribs is no easy task, especially for a writer who has a hard time letting go of their “babies”. Taking some space from your novel does not only make the process easier on the publisher, it makes it easier on the writer.
And so, writers, give yourself some space to drop your shoulders and relax your knotted fingers. I promise, your novel will be there waiting for you when you return to it. Give yourself a breather so you can let go of the writing process and begin the exciting first step into the editorial process. Your editor and your novel will thank you for it.
For those who have read the manuscript several times and even gotten peer feedback, the next step would probably not be sending it to a publisher. The next step would, instead, be having a “professional” literary/manuscript review. In fact, you might consider getting a literary review before the second read. Why consider yourself officially done, only to find out that you really don’t even have a plot or interesting characters?
Here are my tips on how writers can inhale and exhale while producing a great manuscript:
- Write original material (novel, play, etc.).
- Read material to eliminate typos.
- Get a “professional” manuscript review.
- Correct manuscript shortcoming based on feedback.
- Get manuscript professionally edited.
- Send to respected family, friends and peers to garner interest.
- Make minor adjustments if warranted.
- Send to publisher.
Notice the seven steps that should likely occur before sending a manuscript to a publisher for consideration. Also notice that the writer gets to breathe before advancing to the next step. He or she is never in the process alone, slavishly pouring over every line. Others are invited in at strategic moments to ensure you will not be rejected after a publisher reads the first one or two sentences.